Friday, 19 December 2014

EU Fishing Negotiations

As I write this article I am about to start day two of intense negotiations in Brussels over next year’s fishing quotas in my role as Fisheries Minister. There has been concern from Newlyn and other parts of the West Country fleet this year because some of the science on the state of certain fish stocks has been challenging and the European Commission’s original proposals contained some significant cuts. I have been working hard with my negotiating team to get the right outcome and by the time you read this, the final deal will have been done.

If we want a future for our fishing industry then we need to fish sustainably. If we hammer vulnerable stocks today then there will be no fish and no fishermen tomorrow. It is not always easy for people to think about the long term when they are considering fishing opportunities for next year but we must. Some have urged me to forget the scientific advice and just argue against all cuts in quota but I will not ditch the science.  

However, we must ensure we are using the most up to date scientific evidence and also take account of the realities of the marine environment to ensure we do not end up with unintended consequences. That is why I have brought new scientific evidence to the table which demonstrates cod stocks in around Cornwall have recovered since the last evidence was published. 

It is also why our scientists are carrying out what we term "mixed fishery analysis" to model the interactions between different fish species. There is no point having a dramatic cut in the quota for haddock if it is in a mixed fishery with cod and cannot be avoided. Otherwise all that happens is that perfectly good haddock ends up being discarded dead back into the sea because fishermen have no quota for them. That is an appalling waste.

Finally, I have been arguing we should make the most informed judgement we can even where there are gaps in the evidence. The two most important fish species landed in Newlyn are monkfish and megrim. Both are what are termed "data limited stocks" which means there are gaps in the scientific evidence. In the past the Commission has argued for a precautionary approach with automatic cuts to quotas. However, I think we should use the evidence we have of the improving trends in the health of some of these stocks and have been pressing the case for lower reductions than those proposed.

The marine environment is incredibly complex and no man made system to manage it will ever be perfect. From 2016 we will implement the new CFP with a discard ban and new flexibilities to make fisheries management more sensible. It won't be perfect but it does represent a major step forward.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

St Michael's Hospital

Last week I met the Friends of St Michael's Hospital to discuss their plans for the future. There have been rumours circulating for some months now that the hospital is going to be closed which has been unsettling and unfair to the dedicated staff working there.  As the Cornishman reported last week, this has spilled over into concern among local residents.

When the rumours first surfaced this summer I met with Lezli Boswell, the then Chief Executive of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust which runs St Michael’s, to discuss these rumours and ask if there was anything I could do to help.  She made clear there are no plans whatsoever to close the hospital and that they would actually like to do more work there.

I have also had discussions with the Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group which is the body that commissions local NHS services.  They explained that when deciding how to configure NHS services, one of their criteria is to make things more local and encourage joint working within the NHS. I think that's important for Cornwall because we are on a peninsula and have always had a culture of working together. The NHS is no different.

An election is just a few months away and the political atmosphere is charged, but I strongly disagree with those people who keep saying St Michael's will have to be closed down.  We should not undermine confidence in our local NHS.  Instead we should support and strengthen it. According to the Friends of St Michael’s, the hospital delivers over 95 percent of all breast cancer operations in Cornwall, about 1200 operations a year which is an extraordinary feat.  St Michael's is the only hospital in Cornwall where there is the capacity to do this work and it's the reason why it should have confidence in its future.

The Friends team are also looking at the area of orthopaedic surgery which is the other key area covered by St Michael's.  They tell me all three orthopaedic operating theatres are working fully during the five day working week and are aiming to secure additional operations.

Some people have said St Michael's will need to close because there are often empty beds but this is a very old fashioned way to measure performance in the NHS.  As the Friends explained to me, modern surgery means patients are kept in hospital for far shorter periods and that some of the procedures at St Michael’s now require a two-night stay rather than six-day stay. In fact some operations have now become day cases.

Like any big organisation, the NHS will always have challenges to deal with but I think we should help them deal with those challenges, not talk them down.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Autumn Statement

This week George Osborne delivered his last Autumn Statement before the General Election and promised a big boost in funding for both the NHS and transport infrastructure across the South West. Cornwall in particular will benefit from these changes and while the Autumn Statement can be thought of as a mini budget, what is clear is that we could not afford these new investments if we hadn't taken the difficult decisions a few years ago to get the country's economy back on its feet.

The first bit of good news for Cornwall is the announcement the Government has promised to invest £180 million to upgrade the A30 over the next five years. Because we are on a peninsula at the far west of the country, good roads are vital to our economy. The single stretch of carriageway at Temple is a notorious bottleneck and I am really pleased at the news that work to dual this section of the A30 will begin as early as March 2015.

The Government has also announced plans to begin drawing up proposals to improve the A30 between Carland and Chiverton Cross, with the aim to have it opened to traffic by 2020. This is a big step forward in developing our local transport infrastructure as many constituents have contacted me over the years expressing their concerns about how congested the road can become over the summer and I know the announced work will make a huge difference to the area.

Alongside transport spending, the Government has also protected the NHS. Over the life of this parliament, the NHS budget has been increased by £12.5 billion and the Chancellor has just announced a further £2 billion in healthcare funding for frontline NHS services every year. The news will be especially welcome as we go in to winter, a time of year when the NHS comes under maximum pressure.

Across the South West there are now 500 more doctors looking after patients than there were five years ago. In Cornwall, funding for the Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group, which commissions health services in Camborne and Redruth, has increased by more than £14.3 million this year alone with an additional £11.6 million again next year. There are also plans to increase provision at the Camborne and Redruth Community Hospital at Barncoose to include a minor injuries unit and a doctor led urgent care centre.

We have some exceptionally dedicated people working in our NHS. However, as medical science advances and people live longer, the pressures on the health service and the cost of providing it increase accordingly. Those working in the NHS still have their work cut out, so it is good to see this additional money to support the great work they do.

Digital Skills and Connectivity

One of the ways we can raise wages and incomes in the area is by promoting more apprenticeships and locally Cornwall College which I attende...